By: William J Jackson
The 40th Torah Portion “Balak” (1) is named for a Moabite King who tries to recruit a prophet by the name of Balaam (Bil‘am) to curse Israel. This desperate King, was intimidated by his new neighbors, the Israelites (Numbers 22:1). This King does have reason for worry, these Israelites come with a reputation. Recently, through the will of their Elohim, they destroyed three other nations (the southern Canaanites; Numbers 21:1-3, the Amorites Numbers 21:23-24, and the Bashanites; Numbers 21:33-35)(2). As we read the rest of Numbers 22:2-24:41 we find it centers on the prophet Balaam, a man influenced by Hashem to tell the truth in spite of what King Balak and the people wanted.
We can appreciate Balaam’s dilemma. Many of us embrace Hashem’s word, the Torah, and in the process experience the pressure of going against the world. When we breakdown Balaam’s name in Hebrew it is a negative conjunction added to the word “people”, thus his name meant “not of the people” (3). Although this might appear to have a negative connotation like the phrase “against the people” it could be viewed another way. Just remember, when we follow the will of Hashem we are perceived as being against things of this world, when in truth we are for Him. As an example, when we reject homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), adultery (Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 18:20), abortion (Exodus 20:13, 21:22-25), slander (Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 19:16-18)… etc., to a non-believer it becomes convenient and affective to label us as someone negative like “a hater” . This is because we are against the human standard which is called humanism. In all actuality we are not trying to be controversial, we are simply choosing to be set apart (Leviticus 19:2, 20:7-8, 21:8). When our advisories brand us as cynics they are creating a “straw man” fallacy.
The Straw Man Fallacy:
So what’s a straw man fallacy? In the art of debate there are 21 fallacies which are incorrect argument in logic that are intended to undermine an opponent’s arguments (4). A straw man fallacy is basically when someone attacks you with an exaggerated or misrepresented version of your opinion, i.e. “because you did not vote for a minority president you must be a racist”. Although using this or any fallacies is considered desperate they are commonly used as a cheap shot to win a fight. If you ever find yourself in this situation you need to get out because you are in an unfair fight and looking for objectivity from your opponent will just not happen.
The Moabites a Modern Day Blueprint:
In many ways Moab represents the world that Torah believers are up against. The Moabites were worshipers of Baal of Peor. Baal was a Hebrew word which means “to own” or “possess” and was used as a name for foreign gods. The second word in Baal’s title is the region the god was from. In this case it’s “Peor” which was a mountain in Moab (5). The Hebrew word for foreign gods being “owners of men” is easy to relate to. All of us will be owned by something, either Hashem (Psalm 86:16, 116:16, 119:94, 125) or Baal and each society has its own Baal. In our Western Culture many worship the “Baal of Humanism”. Humanism is when Humans becoming the measuring stick, basically the general consensus rules. This has inspired acceptance of sexual promiscuity, abortions, homosexuality, antireligious reform, and a passiveness to injustice. Conversely, those of us that follow Hashem’s word use the Torah as our measuring stick. Thus because of the diametrical opposition of ethical principles we will always find ourselves in conflict with Baal, whomever he represents. Maybe this is the appeal to the Christian religion which compromises Torah (Acts 15:10-11, Hebrews 7:12, 8:13, Col 2:16).
Choosing Hashem is an individual decision:
If we go back to Genesis 19:37 we will see that the Moabites descended from Moab, the son of Lot, born of an incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter. These people were considered an abomination in Torah (2 Kings 23:13) believing in practices such as human sacrifices and mortal deities (6). Although the Prophet Balaam makes the stand (motivated by Hashem), Israel eventually falls prey to worshiping the Moabite gods. The Israelites pay for this infraction with 24,000 of their lives. This indicates to us that it is an individual choice to move towards or away from Torah. For example, in spite of these “chosen people” leaving Torah and being cursed for their action, we also see a Moabite woman by the name of Ruth a couple of centuries later moving towards Torah. With Ruth, we see here how Hashem can change a life and take it in a direction He has foreordained, as He works out His perfect plan in her life (7).